Suspect had no intent to kill or upgrade to the latest electronics.

At roughly 1:30 in the afternoon last Thursday, an operator for the 110 emergency number in Sendai received a call from a woman in her teens. The woman, who was near Sendai Station, the busiest rail hub in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region, had called in to report spotting a man carrying a knife or other bladed instrument of some kind.

The police response was swift, with dozens of officers rushing to the scene. When they arrived and spoke with the caller, however, her friend, also a woman in her teens, told the police that she had seen things slightly differently. According to the friend, what the man was carrying wasn’t a knife, cutter, or any other type of blade, but a garakei.

Or, as we call them in English, a flip phone.

▼ Stay back, or I’ll…call you?

It’s not clear whether or not the friend had convinced the caller that what she’d seen was just some old-school communications technology, and not a dangerous weapon, between the time she’d placed the call and the police arrived. Either way, officers still felt the need to investigate, and after analyzing security footage they were able to identify and find the man the girls had seen. With his cooperation, they searched his belongings and sure enough, he had a flip phone on him, but no knife. No charges were filed against the man, and no injuries were reported, because, again, it was a phone.

The woman’s age seems to have been the primary factor in the mix-up. It’s been several years since smartphones became the norm in Japan, and with KDDI, one of Japan’s largest telecom providers, discontinuing its 3G network service this spring, flip phones have become an increasingly rare site in Japan. The caller’s exact age hasn’t been mentioned in reports, but it’s likely that neither she nor her peers have ever used a flip phone, and that lack of familiarity probably made it hard for her to imagine that the man was holding something so harmless, especially if she was seeing it from a distance.

Another potentially contributing factor is that traditional Japanese handsaws often have a rectangular shape to their blades, with length/width ratios not too far off from a flip phone.

Still, the bizarreness of how something that was once an ubiquitous sight in Japan can now trigger an emergency response from dozens of police officers wasn’t lost on Twitter commenters, who reacted with:

“The generation that doesn’t know what flip phones are.”
“I guess it’s possible she’s never seen one before.”
“Flip phones were such a big part of our lives, but now they’re like a lost technology.”
“Ya know, I can kind of see how someone could make that mistake.”
“After this, I bet some people who still have flip phones are going to feel kind of nervous about using them in public.”

As for the flip phone owner himself, he hasn’t made any public comments about the incident, but I hope he wasn’t too shaken up by it, and was still able to enjoy the rest of his day watching DVDs and playing games on his PSP.

Sources: Asahi Shimbun via Livedoor News, Nikkan Sports via Jin, Twitter
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: SoraNews24, Pakutaso
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he genuinely misses his flip phone and still loves his PSP.